Are There any Health Complications Associated With People Who Have Cerebral Palsy?

There was a time when children diagnosed with cerebral palsy seldom lived to adulthood. Nowadays, modern medicine makes it possible for the majority of people with CP to survive well into their adult years. That being said, people living with this disease typically also deal with a number of associated secondary health risks. Let's discuss some examples.

Aging Prematurely

One of the most common effects of adult-stage cerebral palsy is a tendency to age prematurely, to the point that patients in their 40s sometimes look and older than they are. This condition occurs for a couple of reasons:

  • CP can cause underdevelopment or delayed development of vital organ systems. For example, an underdeveloped heart or respiratory system will have to work harder over the years, thus showing signs of age more quickly.
  • CP causes greater overall physical stress in the body. Stress over time has a tendency to age us.
Depression

As they get older, adults living with cerebral palsy tend to experience depression at a higher rate than the average population-not so much due to the cerebral palsy itself, but due to the ongoing struggles in living with it. The increased risk for depression can often be mitigated or neutralized if the patient has an ongoing, consistent support system around them.

Consistent or Chronic Pain

For people living with CP, pain is generally a part of life, largely due to the way the disease affects their muscle and joint development. Common paint points include pain in the knees, hips, ankles, back and other joints. People who have spastic cerebral palsy (the type that generates jerky movements) may suffer more pain than those with other forms of the disease. Pain issues can be mitigated using a proactive approach to pain management-for example, implementing therapies to correct musculoskeletal anomalies during the developmental stages.

Osteoarthritis

While degenerative osteoarthritis is highly common in the general aging population, people suffering from cerebral palsy may develop osteoarthritis earlier than most, sometimes even during childhood. This early onset may occur due to irregular development in the muscles and joints due to the CP, or it may occur because the patient already has limited motion in certain parts of the body that cause some joints to be overworked.

Post-impairment Syndrome

Post-impairment syndrome is difficult to describe because its symptoms differ somewhat from person to person-but it can generally be described as the pain, fatigue and general weakness associated with expending all one's energy on a regular basis. People living with cerebral palsy commonly experience it because the disease has already caused abnormalities and deformities that cause them to work much harder than most even to accomplish basic tasks. As the person grows older, post-impairment syndrome can affect their stamina and ability to work, socialize or perform other daily functions.

Other Medical Conditions

In addition to the health issues described above, cerebral palsy also commonly causes a variety of other secondary medical conditions, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Incontinence
  • Scoliosis
  • Brittle bones
  • Problems with vision and/or hearing
  • Dental problems
  • Seizures
  • Contractures (muscles or joints locking up)
Treatment of Secondary Health Issues

Since cerebral palsy can trigger such a wide range of additional health issues, the best strategy for long-term care is to be proactive and vigilant. Many secondary conditions may be treated or their effects minimized by regular doctor visits and checkups to look for early signs of trouble. Similarly, physicians and care providers should investigate physical complaints carefully to determine their source, as underlying medical conditions may require a different treatment strategy than treating symptoms of the disease itself.